As our 10th grader begins thinking a bit about college, including the possibility of choosing a competitive university, I began to wonder what it would actually be like for her to attend one coming from a Waldorf education. I've enjoyed reading various alumni interviews that touched on life in college and beyond, so when I ran into 2012 SFWHS grad Andre Amarotico I asked if he would share his impressions after his freshman year at Stanford. He graciously agreed. After hearing his reflections I asked if I could share them with the community. Here is part of our e-mail conversation.
10th Grade Parent: I'm curious about what it is like going to Stanford after going through Waldorf. I'm curious about the academic transition. What sorts of classes did you take at Stanford and how was it relative to how it was for you at SFWHS? I suppose it would give some context to know how you did at SFWHS and how challenging it was or wasn't for you. It is really hard for me to extrapolate from what I see at SFWHS to some of what I know about undergraduate classes at Stanford. My daughter also wonders about how Waldorf is preparing her, as she sees how different her classes and homework are from what friends and relatives are doing in various rigorous forms of traditional education. So anything you can share would be helpful.
Andre Amarotico: So for starters there's the academic transition between Waldorf High School and Stanford. My experience has been a good one! In the months approaching my freshman year I was anticipating a significantly larger work load (especially more reading), and a much higher level of academic vigor than the relatively laid back and personal learning atmosphere of the high school. While it was harder and more academically vigorous when I actually got here, I felt very prepared to tackle the challenge.... Just for some context at SFWHS I had all A's except a few B's in math classes. In general I did have to work pretty hard in high school especially in math. It was not as bad as a lot of my Stanford peers had to work, but it was not a bumpless ride either... At Stanford it has been similar with grades (Mostly A's and a few B's). Waldorf prepared me very well for Stanford! In fact I often feel more prepared than a lot of people around me. In classes here it pays to have some background knowledge of the different subjects that Waldorf teaches and other schools might not. For example I can't tell you how many times I've been able to bring up Transcendentalism in classes and had professors look at me like I had just started speaking their language. Another thing that I attribute in part to Waldorf is the idea that teachers like to interact with students through answering questions. While this may seem obvious it seems like everyone forgets this in college. In lecture halls with hundreds of people this concept still applies and teachers often remember me for my questions. I've even had my name go into slide shows for huge lectures just because I asked a question. One other important thing to remember about any high school to college transition (and Stanford is no exception) is that while there is more work there is much more time to do it in. In high school one has to drive or bus to school, spend a significant portion of the day in class, and then make the commute home. This disappears in college as you live walking distance from class, and usually have 3 or 4 classes a quarter (you sometimes even have a 4 day week!). The bottom line is that more time to do work made the transition a lot less difficult than I had anticipated.
Parent: I'm also curious about what it is like friend-wise, to be with lots of people who may have participated in the hyper-competitive do-what-it-takes-to-get-into-Stanford high school process, when the whole tenor of the SFWHS education is so not that.
Andre: With regard to the friend making and people: There are some super competitive people here who don't think that anything matters but intellect and the money you can make from having it. .... That being said they are not every one. There are people with minds that aren't machines and hearts that pump real blood. I knew this as soon as I started hanging out more and more with friends I had made through theater and even my Italian class. It is absolutely true that many of the motivated, driven people at Stanford have a different sensibility. They have the best intentions for the world in mind and are not self absorbed (many of my close friends are prime examples).